Pakistan Army Rejects Dialogue; Says No Difference Between TTP And LeJ
ISLAMABAD: While an All Parties Conference has supported talks with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, the security establishment believes that holding a dialogue with the TTP would be like negotiating with the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) since there was barely any difference between the two al-Qaeda-linked groups.
They believe the two jointly plan and carry out terror strikes across Pakistan in pursuance of their common agenda — targeting the state of Pakistan and making it surrender to their whims and wishes.
A majority of mainstream parties attending the All Parties Conference (APC) organised by the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) asked the government through a resolution to respond positively to the Taliban’s talks offer. But intriguingly enough, the APC resolution didn’t even ask the Taliban to lay down arms and renounce militancy.
On the other hand, the TTP chief, Hakimullah Mehsud, had already made it clear while extending his offer of talks in a video message: “We are willing to negotiate with the government but would not disarm.”
Well-placed sources in the security establishment say the February 28 APC was more of an attempt on part of Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Nawaz Sharif and Munawar Hassan to appease the TTP leadership which had named them as guarantors of the proposed peace talks while expressing no-confidence in the Pakistan Army.
In fact, Fazlur Rehman’s APC has overshadowed the Awami National Party’s February 14 APC in Islamabad which had resolved that attaining peace through talks should be the first priority but there will be no dialogue until and unless the Taliban lay down arms, renounce militancy and accept the supremacy of the state to show their seriousness in talks. Significantly, the 157th Corps Commanders’ conference that was also held on February 14 in Rawalpindi reportedly rejected any unconditional talks with the Taliban, as the participants argued that conceding to their demands without making them surrender would amount to admitting the defeat of the state against the al-Qaeda-linked extremists.
The security establishment is at pains to point out that the TTP has been making peace offers to the government ever since the army has revised its doctrine and declared the internal threat (from the Taliban) as the biggest threat to national security — bigger than India. Many key political leaders at JUI-F’s APC, especially Nawaz Sharif, backed talks with the Taliban and argued that if the US could talk to the Taliban in Afghanistan, why Pakistan couldn’t talk to the TTP. But according to the Khaki circles, the politicians simply ignore the hard fact that the Afghan Taliban are a political movement which had governed Afghanistan and that is still trying to fight out the ‘foreign occupation forces’ to get hold of the government in Kabul once again. On the other hand, the Khaki circles point out that the Pakistani Taliban are al-Qaeda-linked non-state actors; they neither recognise the territorial boundaries of Pakistan nor its government; they have waged an open war against the state of Pakistan and are fighting against the Pakistani security forces.
Even otherwise, the security establishment pleads, the government will have no moral justification to hold talks with the TTP when it has already ordered a major crackdown against the LeJ, which is an integral and most lethal module of the TTP. The crackdown was ordered in the wake of the brutal massacre of Shia Hazaras in Quetta, with Interior Minister Rehman Malik stating on February 24 in the federal capital that the TTP and LeJ have known links with each other. The TTP has its roots in anti-Shia violence in Pakistan and the LeJ had acted as the training ground for its chief, Hakimullah Mehsud, who is extremely sectarian and has a violently anti-Shia agenda.
As with most Sunni sectarian and militant groups, almost the entire LeJ leadership is made up of people who have fought in Afghanistan and most of its cadre strength has been drawn from Deobandi madrassas in Pakistan. Pakistani intelligence findings show that al-Qaeda has been involved with training of LeJ members, many of whom had also fought together with the Taliban against the Northern Alliance troops in Afghanistan. The LeJ was long al-Qaeda’s principal ally, even years before the emergence of the Pakistani Taliban phenomenon. After the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, the LeJ returned to Pakistan’s tribal areas along with its al-Qaeda allies and assisted in their relocation to Pakistan.
The LeJ militants later sought to exploit the 2003 Pakistani military operation in South Waziristan to convince the Pashtun tribal Jihadi elements in the northwestern Pakistan to join forces and rebel against the state of Pakistan. This culminated in the birth of the TTP in 2005 and the subsequent insurgency against the state that began in 2006, with LeJ serving as a significant nexus between al-Qaeda and the TTP. The Punjabi militants of LeJ, who were an essential segment within the Punjabi Taliban landscape, actually played a significant role in founding the TTP, with key TTP leaders and associates of Baitullhah Mehsud coming from the LeJ, especially Hakimullah Mehsud, Qari Hussain Mehsud, Mattiur Rehman, etc.
Both the LeJ and TTP are anti-Shia and anti-US and they employ similar tactics — mainly suicide bombings and fidayeen attacks — to achieve their targets. Their motives and objectives are also the same — targeting the state institutions, law enforcement agencies, secular liberal political leadership, the Shia community as well as the Western interests in Pakistan. Both the groups are al-Qaeda-linked and have jointly launched numerous terrorist attacks against the Pakistani military installations while using highly-trained al-Qaeda militants from Central Asia and Middle East.
Like the TTP, the LeJ has not only been implicated in terrorist attacks in Pakistan, it has been found involved in conducting terrorist operations across the border in Afghanistan. Afghan President Hamid Karzai had accused the LeJ (on December 7, 2011) of having carried out the massacre of over 55 Shias in Afghanistan on the 10th of Muharram. His claim was eventually confirmed by none other than the LeJ by claiming responsibility of the attack.
Some of the major coordinated terrorist attacks jointly carried out by the TTP and LeJ in Pakistan include the December 2007 assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Rawalpindi (claimed by al-Qaeda, saying the operation was carried out by LeJ men); the September 2008 suicide attack that destroyed Marriott Hotel in Islamabad (meant to avenge the death of TTP founder Baitullah Mehsud); the May 2009 fidayeen attack on the General Headquarters of the Pakistan Army (with the ring leader being an LeJ militant Aqeel alias Usman); the March 2009 attempt to hijack a bus in Lahore carrying the Sri Lankan cricket team (to seek the release of the LeJ’s Malik Ishaq); the March 2010 twin suicide bombing targeting the ISI offices in Lahore (to avenge the death of LeJ’s Qari Zafar); the May 2011 fidayeen attack on the PNS Mehran naval base in Karachi (which destroyed two surveillance aircraft and killed 15 security forces men); the August 2012 fidayeen attack on Kamra Air Base (which destroyed a Saab-2000 aircraft fitted with an Airborne Early Warning system); and the December 2012 fidayeen attack on a PAF Base inside the Bacha Khan International Airport in Peshawar (which killed five security forces personnel).
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